March 16, 2019 | By Stephen McDowell
Did you know that St. Patrick was a real person–and that we can celebrate the spiritual legacy of St. Patrick on March 17th? It doesn’t include green beer or corned beef and cabbage, but his legacy is a real story of the transformation of a nation. Read on…
America is obviously in need of Biblical transformation, as are all the nations of the world. But can we really expect such transformation to ever occur? Can God’s Kingdom come to earth and His will be done here as it is in heaven? Can a nation experience Biblical transformation in our lifetime?
First, since Jesus taught us to pray for this, we can have assurance it can occur. Jesus also gave us the commission to disciple the nations (Matthew 28:18-20), as this is a part of His plan for man while living on earth. In addition, there are many examples in history. Perhaps the greatest example of how Biblical revival transforms nations occurred in the fifth through the seventh centuries, beginning when a young Celt was carried to Ireland as a slave.
Patrick of Ireland was an outstanding example of a man who discipled a nation. He was a world figure; one of the very great among men; “one of the dominant personalities of world history.” He completely transformed Ireland in his lifetime and set the nation on its destiny. His work in Ireland was a world event. Historian Seumas MacManus writes:
All histories of all countries probably could not disclose to the most conscientious searcher another instance of such radical change in a whole nation’s character being wrought within the lifespan of one man.
There was a complete transformation of Ireland from the time before and after Patrick. The people before Patrick were worshiping idols and “were carrying the ruthless law of the sword far over sea and land” enslaving those they encountered. After Patrick, the worship of the living God was predominant throughout the nation, and the Irish people “left the conquering sword to be eaten by rust, while they went far and wide again over sea and land, bearing now to the nations— both neighbouring and far off— the healing balm of Christ’s gentle words.”
Patrick’s providential preparation is an amazing story. Around the year 389 A.D., at the age of 15 or 16, Patrick was captured and enslaved by Irish marauders. He spent six years as a slave in Ireland during his impressionable years. He learned the language, religion, and culture and became an Irishman in many ways. Most importantly, he was converted, remembering his Christian upbringing, and had the seeds of his life work planted in him. His life of a shepherd gave him much time to pray and seek God. He eventually escaped Ireland, acting upon a vision from the Lord, and would not return for over 35 years.
Patrick was about 58 years old when God sent him back to Ireland to fulfill his destiny. His work for the next 28 years brought about as great a transformation in a nation as any man has ever wrought during his lifetime.
The foundation of his life work, and what is needed to transform nations today, was laid in Patrick while he was a slave in Ireland. Brought up in a Christian home, as a youth Patrick had forgotten God and wandered into the ways of sin, but he was awakened unto God. He writes in his Confessions, “And there the Lord opened the understanding of my unbelief so that at length I might recall to mind my sins and be converted with all my heart to the Lord, my God, who hath . . . taken pity on my youth and ignorance.”
Patrick had much time to pray while he watched the flocks day and night, writing:
I was always careful to lead my flocks to pasture, and to pray fervently. The love and fear of God more and more inflamed my heart; my faith enlarged, my spirit augmented, so that I said a hundred prayers by day and almost as many by night. I arose before day in the snow, in the frost, and the rain, yet, I received no harm, nor was I affected with slothfulness. For then the spirit of God was warm within me.
Patrick went into other parts of Ireland, dispelling the darkness with the light of the Gospel, making many converts, including King Laoghaire’s two daughters. His influence grew mightily, to the point where all the serpents and venomous things were driven out of Ireland, which is true spiritually more so than physically. (While there are no snakes in Ireland, this was probably the case before Patrick arrived.)
Over the years, thousands of people were converted including many kings and leaders of the people. “An unquenchable burning desire for bringing souls to Christ was the passion of Patrick’s life.” In addition to multitudes of converts, Patrick worked to bring transformation in all spheres of life:
- He saw untold thousands converted.
- He founded 700 churches.
- He trained and set in place Church leadership — 700 bishops and 3000 ministers.
- He set up training centers to educate thousands.
- He transformed civil government, working with kings to establish godly laws. He wrote the Liber Ex Lege Moisi, which were extracts from the Laws of Moses. He directed the compilation of the laws known as Senchus Mor, revising old laws in accordance with Biblical precepts. Liber and Senchus Morbecame the basis for civil law in Ireland.
In his later years Patrick directed, as mentioned above, the compilation of the laws known as Senchus Mor. He revised the old laws in accordance with Biblical precepts. These laws were also known as the Brehon Laws (from the Irish name of the official lawgiver). He also wrote his famous Confession and other works, which still inspire people today. He died around the year 460, but his work would impact Ireland and all of Europe for centuries to come.
Fruit of Patrick’s Work Transformed a Continent
Many other nations were impacted through those who were trained in the churches, seminaries, and schools Patrick started. Many holy men and women continued Patrick’s work. The three greatest Irish saints were Patrick, Bridget and Colm Cille (Columba).
In the centuries succeeding Patrick, Christians swarmed forth, like bees from a hive, from the Irish monasteries and schools to distant lands carrying the faith and truth that brought many people out of barbarism. One historian wrote: “It was thus, when the whole world seemed irrecoverably sunk in barbarism . . . the Irish went forth into every part of the world,” to spread Christianity and knowledge.
The barbarians (Vandals, Huns, Franks, Visigoths, Saxons, Angles, Jutes, etc.) swept through Europe in the 400s, conquering and destroying all before them. The light of the Gospel in much of Europe was threatened to be extinguished. It was at this crucial time that the fruit of the work of Patrick in Ireland began to grow. One modern book’s title describes the influence: How the Irish Saved Civilization. Carrying Christianity, Ireland’s sons “became the teachers of whole nations, the counselors of kings and emperors.” In addition, Christians from all over England and Europe flocked to Ireland to be trained in the Holy Scriptures, only to return to their lands to sow all that they had learned.
(Excerpted from The Providence Foundation, by Stephen McDowell.)